Eighty years ago this week British over-confidence nearly comes unstuck in Italy and Churchill puts down a dangeous marker
The Eighth Army launched Operation Devon, a largely extemporized amphibious landing by commando and SAS units to capture Termoli at the northern end of the Puglia plain. At that point it seemed possible that the momentum of the allied advance would take them to Rome with little effort. They achieved initial surprise but had few or no heavy weapons so when the Germans 16th Panzer Division put in a counter-attack they found they had a hard fight on their hands. Termoli was at the eastern end of a series of defensive lines that General Kesselring had marked out to hold the allied advance. One small SAS unit had been tasked with gathering escaped British PoWs and its commander Roy Farran later candidly admitted that he considered defending against the counter-attack was "somebody else's affair" but when he was called to order his unit fought intensely. Eventually the garrison was relieved by regular infantry and tanks advancing over land, but the Battle of Termoli provided a foretaste of the hard fighting that awaited the allies as they moved north up the Italian peninsula.
The new Italian government under Marshal Badoglio declared war on Germany. This practically opened a civil war against Mussolini's Salo government but had little beyond symbolic significance. The Germans had already established full military control north of Naples and the Italian armed forces could offer little worthwhile assistance.
Prodded by Hap Arnold the head of the US 8th Air Force in England took advantage of a week's clear weather to launch raids on Germany on three successive days. The final attack was on Muenster close to the Dutch border. For the first time the Americans followed the British practice of simply bombing the centre of the city without a precise military target. P-47 fighters escorted the bombers almost over the target and on the way back, but this still left a gap in which some 300 German fighters were able to attack. The Americans suffered 10% casualties bringing their losses over the three days to 88 B-17s. Many aircraft were severely damaged as well.
In a debate on the future of the coal industry Churchill explicitly ruled out nationalising the mines. Labour did not initiate a vote against this and made a tepid call for the miners to be better treated, but this was a question of tactics. Nationalisation was part of Labour's policy and Churchill had, by some measures, opened the campaign for the next election with an implicit declaration that peace would bring a return to the pre-war status of the industry. At no political cost to itself, Labour had let the Conservatives put down a potentially divisive policy marker.